School Daze: Living and Thriving in an Elementary School Classroom
They say you can’t go back, but I am trying.
I live and work in a 1200 sq. ft. elementary school classroom on the Oregon Coast. My landlord, a school teacher, purchased the whole school about 10 years ago and remodeled 8 of the classrooms into apartments. Besides these apartments, there is an old school gym and cafeteria used for community events, basketball practice, weddings, a model train show at Christmas, and the annual crab feed.
There is endless work still to be done on the buildings and grounds. The school exterior is pretty scruffy, but the entry hall is finally being painted and an onsite laundry room is being installed as I write.
We residents are the “Bobcats” – mostly middle-aged or older – 3 artists, a couple building a boat by hand in the local shipyard, an emergency room physician, a young man who works in a local restaurant and a retired couple. The apartment manager is easy going and goes barefoot, regardless of the weather.
We are colorful enough to inspire a sitcom. Truth can be stranger than fiction sometimes.
You can see a slide show of my space below. The school was built in the 1960s. The landlord added a kitchen and shower to each classroom, and the toilet and sink have been refurbished. There is new carpet, linoleum, updated lighting, ceiling fans, new paint, a security system, and double-paned windows. The room still has many of its original features – a vaulted ceiling, blackboard, pencil sharpener, coat closet, flag — and those huge windows we used for staring and daydreaming as kids — as our teacher droned on and on.
Unlike Portland, where anything extra requires an “additional fee” and a contract, the management here is generous and accommodating. They have loaned me several heavy art tables from the auditorium (and even lugged them over to my apartment for me.) They also constructed a little sleeping cubicle for me out of old folding doors.
I’ve furnished the place with colorful second-hand things. The area is economically depressed, so most things are relatively affordable and I’ve discovered wonderful artists who are painting and restoring furniture pieces. I’ve added some school “props” to further fuel my back-to-school fantasies: a 1950s globe, a metal locker, old books, a school bell, a child’s chair, a hall pass and a shiny red wooden apple. I just stopped short of buying a pull down map of the world.
My windows are south-facing with great light and the weather has been wonderful. The closest walking beach is only two miles away. The rent is low, utilities are never over $60 and WiFi is free. The people are unpretentious and friendly. I am learning how to cook seafood and there are many things still to explore and learn. I can’t see any reason to leave here for awhile.
Until recently, I drove back and forth between Portland and the Rogue Valley frequently, but I am making a commitment now to stay put and get some work done — until September – when I head east to Pendleton for a bang-up rodeo party for my 60th birthday.
At the schoolhouse I am creating a new body of work I call “Shipyard Abstracts”. All my work, both painting and collage, has taken on a maritime theme — mostly inspired by beach-y finds and the local shipyard full of rusty things and the weathered leavings of abandoned and decomposing ships. I am still making my up-cycled aboriginal inspired pieces, and if all goes as planned, I will photograph and post them in my new Etsy Store this weekend. I also continue to enjoy doing social media work for a couple clients.
It is a huge, peaceful and deeply quiet place — where I can breath, spread out and heal from the past decade.
It has not escaped me that I have managed to put myself back into school – to a time and place that was safe and predictable for me as a child — when my family life wasn’t.
I think I will just stay here awhile until I grow up some more.